Brace yourself, gentle reader. The time for confession is at hand. I am coming out of the organic garden closet.
I have used Round-Up.
There it is. The cat is out of the bag and Santa has lost his beard. The Sho’ Nuff Sistuh is a poser, an imposter, a fraud, a charlatan, a mountebank. She is the Mata Hari of the organic gardening world.
And yet, with a straight and defiant face, I proudly continue to call myself an organic gardener because I am not only an organic gardener. I am also an amateur restoration ecologist, a proponent of a land management philosophy that seeks to re-establish native habitats not only in so-called “wild-lands” but in sprawling suburban wastelands and in urban micro-ecosystems. Such work requires the removal, or in the very least the suppression of invasive and/or feral plant species that endanger (and in some cases have driven to the brink of extinction) native woodland, wetland, desert and prairie species.
I can wipe out most species of cool weather grass using an old tarp, mulch, newspaper, piles of oak leaves. I can suppress late emerging warm weather grasses with organic pre-emergents or by cover cropping. I can suppress many invasive herbaceous and woody perennials with garden pruners, a good shovel, or if worse comes to worst, an old fashioned fire.
But I challenge any organic gardener to face down kudzu with a bottle of industrial-strength white vinegar.
Japanese honeysuckle and Himalayan olives are the nightmare invasives in my ecosystem. Mulberries, though native, can also be aggressive beyond endurance. Very rarely, and only after other mechanical means have proven a complete failure, I use a sponge to apply a thin coating of Round-Up to the freshly cut stumps of these three species.
Every now and again, I try to explain to other organic gardeners the very difficult calculus that I, as an amateur restoration ecologist, must make to maintain my restored prairie and woodland habitats. Which is more damaging to the ecosystem I am working with, Japanese honeysuckle or a narrowly targeted application of Round-Up?
Honestly, I have been on the receiving end of so many finger-wagging tongue-lashings you’d think I had kidnapped the Lindbergh Baby.
I recall an absolutely surreal conversation I had with a Missouri Master Gardener who (having soundly put me in my place on the Evils of Round-Up) enthusiastically chronicled her progress planting 15 high bush blueberry shrubs in her Missouri backyard. Having just finished roto-tilling 20 bales of peat moss into the soil, she was looking forward to a weekend planting the bushes, which had arrived by mail order from a certain reputable nursery in Washington state (that shall remain nameless).
I guess this Organic Gardening Purity Test Policewoman thought that peat moss comes from the peat moss store, not from critically endangered bog ecosystems. I guess she thought her peat moss arrived in St. Louis Missouri from Northern Canada by petroleum-free solar powered tractor beam. Which is worse for the environment, my limited use of Round-Up or the jet-fuel burned shipping those bushes across the country?
By what metric do organic gardeners measure the absolute harm we deliver to the environment? The choices we make about which acts of violence we will and will not commit are personal, political, economic and cannot be imposed by external arbiters of organic purity and environmental morality.
Meanwhile, it’s Fertilizer Friday at Tootsie Time; check out gorgeous gardens from around the globe. I’m off to fertilize my tomatoes.